An “N.D.” rightfully awarded can never be revoked after a man has left the University. All wearers of insignia representative of Notre Dame shall be most careful to safeguard these particular insignia so that they may not be abused by those who have no right to wear them.
— Constitution, By-Laws and Regulations of the Faculty Board in Control of Athletics, from the 1929 edition of The Notre Dame Athletic Record
The list of items that best represent the University of Notre Dame — and Notre Dame athletics — is a lengthy one:
- There’s the Golden Dome atop the University’s Main Building.
- There’s the huge mural of Christ — titled The Word of Life — on the south side of the Hesburgh Memorial Library, which came to be known as “Touchdown Jesus.”
- There’s the Play Like a Champion Today sign that has come to represent an institutional philosophy of sorts.
- There’s the leprechaun, the official University mascot.
- There’s the Notre Dame Victory March, the University’s fight song.
- There’s even the familiar “Win One for the Gipper” phrase that has been popularized in common culture over the decades.
Yet maybe the most identifiable item on that list is the Notre Dame Monogram — the interlocking N and D letters that can be found in so many locations.
Those letters probably say Notre Dame to all its various constituencies better than any of the others listed.
And what a long and interesting history that Monogram boasts.
The history of the Monogram dates back to 1899 when it was referenced in the constitution of the Athletic Association of the University as the “official athletic insignia.”
A Joyce Center concourse display suggests its initial use “seems to be obscured in history, although some early pictures show players wearing a large ND on their jerseys.”
That same display goes on to note a reference to “a team cap with ‘ND’ on it, only to be worn by qualifying members of the varsity teams.”
Current football yearbooks list the first players in 1887 and 1888 as “Monogram winners,” an honor bestowed after the fact when the awarding of letters first started.
Football use of the Monogram over the decades has been varied.
Notre Dame’s mostly blue (but sometimes green) football jerseys over the years often contained no script Notre Dame or use of the Monogram.
A study of Irish uniforms shows a large ND appearing on the front of the jersey from 1900-05 and then again in 1913 (Knute Rockne’s senior season as a Notre Dame player).
Then the Monogram disappeared from football garb for 73 years — though a shamrock could be found on the side of Irish football helmets from 1959-62.
Lou Holtz added a Monogram to the sleeve of the football jersey in 1986. Its placement has changed in various uniform iterations since then, but has remained in some capacity.It wasn’t until 1986 — Lou Holtz’s first season as Notre Dame head coach — that the equipment staff moved the television numbers from the sleeves to the shoulder tops and added a Monogram on each sleeve. Holtz also added a much smaller ND on the front left side of the uniform pants.
The Monogram have remained on the jerseys and pants ever since.
From 2004-09 there also was an ND at the throat of the V-necked adidas jersey.
The Notre Dame helmet did sport a Monogram for one game in 2014 (a large blue ND against a gold background) when the Irish played their Shamrock Series contest against Purdue at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis.
A large Monogram was placed at midfield in Notre Dame Stadium in 2014 when the University replaced natural grass with FieldTurf.
But how about the actual look of the Monogram in its various forms?
That’s another interesting historical story to be told — and it was prompted by the research of the former operations director for the Notre Dame fencing program.
Dating back more than a century, the Monogram at Notre Dame has taken on many designs.
Many of those remain celebrated in historical fashion.
For example, when senior deputy athletics director Missy Conboy worked to create new theming in the upper concourse of Purcell Pavilion during that facility renovation, she used all the older versions of that ND logo in the design.
“I was aware that the Monogram Club had used many of those throughout the years, and we just decided to showcase those when we were theming the upper concourse,” she says. “I think we got the actual artwork from the club or from the University archives, and we tried to feature all of them on the upper concourse, in no particular order.”
For years, the University’s licensing department did business with something of a “more is better” theme.
A decade ago, the sheets of approved University marks included as many as 20 different ND logos in various forms and colors — some of those with outline shading.
It was Alex Buell — a 2011 Notre Dame graduate (with a marketing degree), former Irish fencer, fencing operations intern and full-time fencing operations director (he’s now completing his MBA at Indiana University) — who first researched and revealed the wide variety of usages within Notre Dame athletic facilities, uniforms and publications.
Buell in 2015 produced a detailed survey in which he named and identified where five different Monograms were in active use, with all of these characterized by varied angles and weights of the lines used to form the two letters.
To many Irish fans and alumni, the differences in these various versions were almost indistinguishable — without Buell detailing the slight variations.
In many cases, all of these versions had been used and considered “official.” When requests came, they often were fulfilled based on whatever logos happened to be available on someone’s computer desktop.
In 2015 the athletic department decided to create standardization.
Armed with Buell’s research, a committee of athletics administrators worked with California-based Innovation Protocol to create well-defined standards for use of the Monogram as well as the leprechaun and shamrock.
The new style guide addressed colors and typography. It also acknowledged a “vintage vault” of historical marks that included 16 different older versions of the Monogram, the original stylized leprechaun designed by Ted Drake — plus Notre Dame and Irish word marks.
While the rollout of the new brand standard guidelines likely wasn’t even noticed by most Notre Dame fans, there now exists a detailed guide to indicate proper use of the Monogram and all accompanying marks.
Absent a budget to immediately make wholesale changes, many existing Monograms will remain in place until they are changed out over time. But adherence to the new brand standards has ensured that anyone using the Monogram (or other athletic marks) since the 2015 standardization makes use of a consistent new Monogram developed by Notre Dame with the design assistance of Innovation Protocol.
That single Monogram has replaced those 20 versions once offered by the licensing department.
The football jerseys as seen today also feature monograms on the sleeves, while the pants also feature the mark on the left hip.
Says Buell, “The Monogram now looks like it has been around forever — and that’s because the work we did was rooted in a deep understanding and respect of its history. Yet we debated and discussed every point, every angle, every width. In the end, we simply polished and preserved the Monogram for the future.
“It’s one of the most powerful marks in collegiate athletics, and there’s nothing particularly new about that.”
Grammar purists might argue that the word Monogram should begin with a lower-case M.
Yet it speaks to the magnitude of that insignia that at Notre Dame the term is routinely capitalized.
The Monogram also plays out in real time for Irish athletes who are awarded Monograms, as opposed to letters, by the Notre Dame Monogram Club. There currently are more than 8,000 living Monogram-winners.
There are participation levels for each sport to earn a Monogram — with the first one represented by a traditional letter jacket, the second by a blanket, the third by a ring and the fourth by a watch.
The Monogram Club holds a letter-jacket ceremony each fall and spring to present Monograms to first-time winners.
The Monogram Club (dating back to 1949) also presents honorary Monograms to individuals who have made particular contributions to Notre Dame athletics without actually competing on the field or court.
Among those who have been recognized in that manner are former presidents Ronald Reagan and Gerald Ford, Pope John Paul II and a long list of Irish coaches, athletics administrators and others who have substantially impacted the program.
The dramatic opening of the video shown at each letter-jacket ceremony features the following narration:
On the day they were born, on the day they picked up a ball or a foil or a stick,
On the day they came here, to the water and ice, to the track and field,
Where mystique meets tradition, legend meets myth,
And fate is sometimes spelled with two interlocking letters,
Where the essence of intercollegiate sports is sewn into the fabric,
And to earn a Monogram means you’ve become part of the myth, the legend, the lore
Says former Irish football defensive back Pat Terrell, “The first time I wore my Monogram jacket I was a freshman. It was a big deal — to be able to get out there and play enough to contribute to a team.
“To get a Notre Dame Monogram jacket was a special moment. It’s a reminder that nothing comes easy. You get out what you put in.”
Adds Kate Sobrero Markgraf, a former Irish women’s soccer standout and two-time Summer Olympic Games gold-medal winner (2004 and 2008), “Going to Notre Dame and winning a Monogram builds in that confidence.Each semester, first-year Monogram winners are awarded jackets from the Notre Dame Monogram Club.
“You have that foundation for the rest of your life, that you can do anything. You don’t settle for mediocrity.”
Current Monogram Club president Terri Vitale, a former Irish tennis player, says, “You’re representing something much bigger than yourself.”
Recent Notre Dame Monogram Club president Kevin O’Connor, a former Irish men’s lacrosse player, has his own perspective:
“When I look at that varsity letter, I don’t think of my jacket. I think of my teammates, I think of my coaches, I think of the places and the teams we played against.
“It means so much more to me than the actual letter itself.”
Here’s how the video concludes:
Only here, amidst these storied halls of ivy, can anyone ever say,
“I earned a Monogram from Our Lady of the Lake, the University of Notre Dame du Lac”
It appears so simple — two capital letters, an N and a D over the top of each other.
Combine them and they produce an insignia that represents so much more than the Monogram itself.
Just ask anyone who has earned one.
John Heisler, senior associate athletics director at the University of Notre Dame, has been part of the Fighting Irish athletics communications team since 1978. A South Bend, Indiana, native, he is a graduate of the University of Missouri School of Journalism and a member of the College Sports Information Directors of America Hall of Fame. He is editor of the award-winning “Strong of Heart” series.